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Across the Pond

A Special Kind of Freeware

(Richard Morin)

I've been using freely redistributable software for most of my 30-year career in computer programming. I've found DECUS and USENIX tapes to be handy and I've also played with Icon, Perl, Software Tools (RatFor) and UCSD Pascal, among others.

During the last 15 years or so, my involvement has been more active: I edited a couple of Sun User Group (now defunct due to user apathy and Sun's opposition) tapes, then started Prime Time Freeware, a publisher of freely redistributable software.

Through the years, I've had to wrestle with many naming problems involved with "free([ly redistributable] soft)ware." I have answered email explaining why I was not required to send free CD-ROMs to random individuals, written Web pages and columns on the topic, and spent time talking to Richard M Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, about whether I should use the term "freeware", "free software", or "freely redistributable software". I agree with Stallman that the word "free" is a valuable reminder of the freedoms this kind of software protects. If software is freely distributed in source form, I'm free to examine it, modify it and, in general, redistribute it to others. I am also free from worry that a vendor will go away (or simply decide to abandon a product), leaving me with an "orphan" piece of software.

On the other hand, "freely redistributable software" is too big a mouthful for many situations. Moreover, the terms "freeware" and, to a lesser extent, "free software" have been adopted by the Macintosh and PC communities for programs that are freely distributed, but only in binary form.

As you can imagine, this naming problem goes right to the heart of Prime Time Freeware's "corporate image". Lacking a better alternative, however, I have simply had to wrestle with the many explanations, none simple or easy.

Flavours of Freeware

Making matters worse, I have found myself dealing with many different "flavours" of freeware. Some authors simply toss their source code out on a convenient USENET group, (possibly) giving their name and email address as a point of reference. Because of international copyright law, the author retains a real, if limited, copyright to this material. So, if anyone wants to redistribute the code, he must first contact the author for permission (sigh).

Almost as troublesome are the tossed-together notices that some hackers affix to their code: "This code is in the public domain, but you can't charge money for it or use it to operate missile silos." Right.

True public domain (PD) software isn't a problem for users or redistributors. It contains an explicit notice placing the code in the public domain. This allows any recipient to use it, modify it, redistribute it and so on. On the other hand, PD software can be modified, then "claimed" by someone as their own. Worse still, it can be used as the basis for a proprietary package, taking the revisions out of the public domain. Many universities, including Carnegie Mellon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California at Berkeley, deal with the first problem by requiring that their code retain a copyright notice. They do, however, allow modification and even proprietary use of the code.

The second problem - proprietary use - led Stallman to craft the GNU's General Public License (GPL). The GPL "protects" the software from proprietary use by requiring that any binary distribution be accompanied by an equally available source-code distribution and that no further restrictions be placed on the modified version. Although you might think the differences in these licensing tactics are pretty minor, they matter greatly to the folks involved. Some free software developers avoid using GNU code, lest portions of their releases become "contaminated" by the GPL and, thus, unusable in proprietary products.

If freeware were used only by occasional hackers, none of this would matter much to corporate types, let alone to the general public. In reality, however, large parts of the Internet rely heavily on free software. For example, the Domain Name System (DNS) is dominated by the Bind package; Internet email forwarding is dominated by Sendmail; Apache runs most Web servers; Perl, Python and Tcl/Tk are very popular languages around the Internet; and C and C++ (via the GNU C Compiler and the GNU debugger) are also part of the freeware opus.

More to the point, the 4.4BSD court proceedings revealed that something like 50% of UNIX System V is based on code developed by research laboratories and universities. This code is now available as 4.4BSD-Lite and many derivative releases.

Netscape Communications Corp.'s recent decision to free the source code for Communicator has, however, brought the media's eyes to the free software community. Freeware has become "hot" and may well get hotter. As a result, the naming problems and internecine squabbles of old are becoming more expensive.

Tim O'Reilly's Summit

Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly & Associates Inc. is keenly aware of these issues. O'Reilly & Associates publishes a large number of books on free software and related topics. The company also sponsors an annual Perl conference and pays Larry Wall to keep Perl alive and growing. In short, Tim O'Reilly is strongly motivated to see the free software community prosper.

Tim recently decided to hold a small "summit" to discuss free software issues. Most of the attendees were developers and included Eric Allman (Sendmail), Brian Behlendorf (Apache), John Ousterhout (Tcl/Tk), Tom Paquin (Mozilla), Linus Torvalds (Linux), Guido van Rossum (Python), Paul Vixie (Bind), Larry Wall (Perl), Jamie Zawinski (Mozilla) and Phil Zimmerman (PGP). A few others, connected to these developers through business relationships, also attended. To add some differing perspectives, Tim also invited John Gilmore (founder of Cygnus Solutions), Eric Raymond (author of "The Cathedral and the Bazaar") and me (long-term freeware groupie:-).

Tim invited us to meet so that we could explore the opportunities and problems that face the free software community. It was a heady experience for me and, I suspect, for many of the other attendees. Despite some digressions into favourite themes, we managed to discuss several substantial topics. What motivates developers to release their source code as free software? What characteristics set free software apart from proprietary code? What issues must the free software community solve it it's to be accepted by "Big Business"?

I won't try to detail all of the points that were made, but here are some that struck me as particularly interesting and meaningful:

Does the Boss Know?

Historically, open source software has been introduced in guerrilla fashion: Techies need to get a job done, know that a given package will help and put it in place. Only later does the boss find out that the package is in place. If the boss would learn a little bit more about open source software, however, he could gain far more.

Open source software is robust, flexible and safe from vendor policy changes. (Tried getting a copy of SunOS 4.1.4 recently?) It also promotes a climate of vendor-neutral standards, reducing the risk that any one vendor can "own" the entire playing field. As a businessman and an open source advocate, I find these arguments to be pretty compelling.

Reprinted with permission from SunExpert


Future of the `Open Source' trademark

(Software in the Public Interest, Inc.)

There is currently some dispute about the status of the `Open Source' trademark. The SPI board feel that it is important that the future of the mark be decided in an open and transparent manner. Therefore, we are making this announcement, which has three purposes:

  1. To explain our view of the current situation.
  2. To explain some of the background as we see it.
  3. To consult the wider free software community about the future of the `Open Source' trademark.
The rest of this announcement will go into these areas in more detail.

1. The Current Situation

Software in the Public Interest, Inc (SPI) is a non-profit organisation whose aims are to help the development and distribution of open software and hardware. Currently SPI's associated projects include the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, the Berlin windowing system, the Gnome desktop, and others.

The SPI board believes that the Open Source trademark is currently owned by SPI; however, Bruce Perens and other former board members of SPI are in the process of setting up another organisation, the Open Source Initiative (OSI), and claim that they own the mark (while repeatedly demanding of the SPI board that they immediately transfer ownership of the mark to OSI).

The SPI board feels that the Open Source trademark is an important public asset which should be owned and managed for the benefit of the free software community. We feel that the mark should be owned by an open and accountable organisation, preferably an organisation controlled by a membership consisting of free software developers.

Furthermore, we feel that any transfer of the mark to another organisation should be carried out with due care and thoughtfulness, and after a public consultation.

An online discussion between the SPI and OSI boards has failed to reach consensus. The OSI board continues to demand immediate transfer of the mark, and has stated to us an intent to take immediate and we believe possibly fraudulent unilateral action with the trademark office to achieve this.

The SPI board continues to maintain that any transfer should take place with due consideration, and in particular, that a public consultation should take place before any transfer. Relations having broken down, we are now therefore acting unilaterally in distributing this announcement and request for comments.

Furthermore, the SPI board hopes that the community will give due consideration to their belief that the mark should be managed by an open and transparent organisation.

2. Background and History - Gory Details

(a) Software in the Public Interest http://www.spi-inc.org/
SPI was incorporated in June 1997 by Bruce Perens, Ian Murdock and Tim Sailer, originally as a legal vehicle for the Debian project. Ian Jackson was appointed to the board shortly thereafter.

Following various discussions about the subject amongst board members and members of the Debian Project, by mid-March 1998 the board members had all agreed that SPI should broaden its scope to more than just Debian; since then, various other projects have become associated with SPI as it continues to broaden its scope. The new SPI board are anxious to continue this process.

Up until August 1998, there had been continuous rumblings about lack of openness on the part of SPI. (Ian Jackson had attempted to improve matters, for example by scanning in and publishing the bylaws, which had previously not even been available to the supposed members of the organisation.) On the 4th and 5th of August, matters came to a head, and the three board members apart from Ian Jackson resigned simultaneously, apparently due to criticism about the closed nature of the organisation.

As required by the bylaws, Ian Jackson appointed a new board, including Dale Scheetz, Nils Lohner and Martin Schulze. Since then the new board has been working to put the affairs of the organisation in order. For example, there do not appear to be any board meeting minutes, resolution minutes or membership records, and we believe that some trademark documents (including some for the Open Source trademark) are still with former board members.

The new board have set up the SPI web site, giving details of the organisation's bylaws and articles of incorporation, board meeting minutes and resolutions, and so forth. We have just approved two key resolutions regarding our relationship with our associated projects and assets we hold - the Framework for Associated Projects, and the Statement and Promises on Intellectual Property, and these are now published on our site.

The board plan to revise the bylaws appropriate to the wider role for the organisation which was agreed informally by the previous board. In particular, the board will establish new rules for membership which will allow free software developers to become members of the organisation.

(b) The `Open Source' Trademark
The `Open Source' trademark was registered in SPI's name by Bruce Perens in February 1998, anticipating the wider role that would be agreed for SPI. Since then the mark has been managed by Eric Raymond.

According to Bruce and Eric, on the 20th of March 1998 Bruce sent Eric an email which claimed that `SPI hereby transfers' all interest in the Open Source trademark to Eric. This message did not follow a board resolution to this effect, and indeed at least one other board member was not aware of its existence until it was forwarded back to the current board by Eric during the current dispute! It is not the view of the current board that this email has any legal validity, as it was sent without approval of the board.

Shortly following their resignation from the board of SPI, the former board members moved to set up a new organisation, the `Open Source Initiative', which they are currently in the process of incorporating.

Since this time Bruce Perens has repeatedly demanded the immediate transfer of the Open Source trademark to this new organisation.

The SPI board engaged in discussions with Eric Raymond regarding the future of the mark. After some discussion, during which the new SPI board stated that we don't believe we have all the paperwork, and expressed our reservations about the new OSI organisation, Eric became convinced that SPI was failing to honour its promise (as evidenced by Bruce's 20th of March email) to transfer the mark to him, and also demanded its immediate transfer to OSI.

The SPI and OSI boards met online to discuss the matter. There was much discussion of procedural niceities. When substantive matters were reached, Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond insisted that OSI or Eric already own the mark; Eric Raymond expressed the view that he personally should decide on the mark's future, and denied that there was such a thing as a `public asset'; the OSI board members present accused SPI of footdragging.

The SPI board maintained that an open and accountable organisation, preferably a membership organisation, should manage the mark. We stated that we wished to consult a public consultation exercise regarding the mark's future. We expressed a willingness to transfer the mark to another open organisation. We expressed reservations about certain current OSI board members, Bruce Perens in particular.

The SPI board maintained that at least at the moment, SPI is a more open, accountable and transparent organisation than OSI.

3. Public Consultation

In accordance with SPI's Statement and Promises about Intellectual Property, the SPI board are conducting a public consultation exercise to determine the future of the Open Source trademark.

Broadly speaking, we can see four options:

  1. Retain the mark, managed by Eric Raymond if he is willing.
  2. Turn the mark over to another free software organisation. Which one ?
  3. Turn the mark over to the Open Source Initiative, which is in the process of being set up by Bruce Perens and others.
  4. Retain the mark, and appoint new manager(s). Who ?
We would be grateful if members of the free software development community would let us know their thoughts on the matters we've raised here.

Please mail us at opensource-consult@spi-inc.org, giving your views and reasoning. If you feel we might not know who you are, please also state your association with, and contribution to, the free software community.

The consultation period will end at midnight at the end of the calendar year 1998, UTC. All consultation responses will be made public by SPI after the consultation period has closed, unless the respondent specifically requests otherwise.

4. Contacting and Participating in SPI

For general information about SPI, please see our web site, at www.spi-inc.org. General enquiries should go to spi@spi-inc.org. Press enquiries to press@spi-inc.org, please. Thank you.

Larry Wall wins Free Software Foundation Award

Larry Wall, the creator of several popular free software programs, has won the first Free Software Foundation Award for the Advancement of Free Software. Wall was honored for "his many contributions to the advancement of freely distributed software," according to the Free Software Foundation (http://www.fsf.org/). The award was granted on October 9 in at Masschusetts Institute of Technology. Wall's most well-known product is Perl, a powerful scripting language used by system administrators and web developers for sophisticated text manipulation, system management and active Web pages. There are about one million Perl programmers worldwide, with a core of more than 450 on the Perl porters mailing list, who are most active in its development and maintenance.

Wall, Senior Software Developer at O'Reilly & Associates, also won the award for creating rn, a widely-used news reader; patch, a development and distribution tool; metaconfig, which writes Configure scripts; and the Warp space-war game.

In granting the award, the Free Software Foundation said, "Larry Wall has always promoted keeping his implementations free for all to study, enhance, and build on, without restrictions, and the freedom for all to benefit in whatever ways they can from his products." They called Perl "a tool that takes the UNIX ideas of flexibility and portability further than almost any program before it."

Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO, O'Reilly & Associates, stated:

Larry's influence on modern computing goes well beyond Perl. The Internet, and in fact much of the innovation that is driving the current boom in Silicon Valley and Redmond, largely grew out of an academic and research community in which the sharing of source code, and the ability to build on the work of your peers, was taken for granted. Larry's patch program allowed people to share modifications to existing programs and to merge divergent source trees, encouraging a style of distributed software development that has proven to be the most powerful methodology available. Similarly, Larry's idiosyncratic Perl language turned out to be a key enabler for the explosion of active content on the World Wide Web. While industry hype focussed on Java and ActiveX, Perl quietly stole the market, becoming a key component of the next generation "information applications" at Yahoo, Amazon.com, and tens of thousands of other leading sites.

Wall has won other honors, including the Dr. Dobb's 1996 Excellence in Programming Award, and the SAGE (System Administrators Guild) 1994 Outstanding Achievement Award. Perl won the WebTechniques/WebReview 1997 Editor's Choice Award for Scripting Language. Wall has received wide coverage in the press, including in Salon (http://www.salonmagazine.com/21st/feature/1998/10/cov_13feature.html) and Dr. Dobb's Journal (http://www.ddj.com/ddj/1996/1996_03/eric.htm).

The Free Software Foundation awards committee members are Peter Salus (Chairman), Scott Christley, Rich Morin, Adam Richter, Richard Stallman, and Vernor Vinge.


O'Reilly's UNIX Sales Surge

Tim O'Reilly, president of O'Reilly & Associates, reported today sales of its UNIX technical books have surged. Sales of "UNIX In A Nutshell," the best-selling UNIX book in publishing history, have tripled in the past month, as have those of many of the company's other UNIX titles. "We believe UNIX is finding a whole new audience," said O'Reilly. "It's hard to ignore an operating system that is capable of supporting the enterprise and has been pounded on by the world's largest companies and institutions for over 25 years. We're bullish on UNIX."

O'Reilly & Associates continues to publish new books for UNIX. This fall it will release "The UNIX CD Bookshelf" (ISBN: 1-56592-406-1, $69.95 US), a book/digital book package containing the full text of six O'Reilly titles ("UNIX In A Nutshell," "UNIX Power Tools," "Learning the Unix Operating System," "Learning the vi Editor," "sed & awk," and "Learning the Korn Shell"), plus the software from "UNIX Power Tools."

O'Reilly's UNIX publishing program consists of a matrix of system administration, user-level, C programming and utility books, as well as books covering such Open Source technologies as Perl, Tcl/Tk, and Apache. O'Reilly's Linux titles, which include "Linux In A Nutshell" and "Running Linux," are among the best-selling guides to this Open Source UNIX variant.


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